Sunday, May 29, 2011

Before Lights, Camera, Action.

Most early film actresses began their professional life before they made an appearance on the silver screen. Some found success in films, others were already past the mid-point in their careers by the time movies became a major attraction to the public at large.

What follows are images of actresses photographed from 1906-1913, while they were still primarily performing in legitimate theater or stage shows. Some names you may recognize, but I'm guessing most will be unfamiliar.

One of the most apparent things we can see is how drastically fashion changed after World War I and on into the 1920's. I'm guessing the entire female population welcomed the change, but I must say, I love those big hats.

These images are all at least 100 years old and needed some restoration before I was ready to publish them. You will still see some "blemishes", but we should be thankful they exist at all.

Click on the images for a larger view, and the name links for more information.

Gladys Cooper (1888 – 1971) made her first film in 1913. She was nominated for the Oscar as supporting actress in My Fair Lady (1965), The Song of Bernadette (1944), and Now, Voyager (1943).

Pauline Chase (1885 - 1962) appeared in only one film (1916), but her fame came from having the title theatrical role of Peter Pan from 1906-1913. J.M. Barrie personally selected her for the part.

Annette Kellerman (1887 - 1975), here looking like the perfect role would be as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. However, she was actually an accomplished swimmer and her life story was made into the 1952 film Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) starring Esther Williams.

Grace La Rue (1880 - 1956) Was an actress and singer who had a very successful stage career. She did appear in a couple of films, including two singing shorts in 1929 and in Mae West's She Done Him Wrong in 1933.

Ruth St. Denis (1878 - 1968) is acknowledged as one of the pioneers of modern dance. She only appeared in two films, but was a choreographer for three. One of her more famous pupils was Martha Graham, who attended St. Denis' school of dance. Louise Brooks was also a student at her school.

Dancer Stacia Napierkowska (1886 - 1945) appeared in 86 films, her last in 1926. In 1913, she was arrested during a performance of one of her dances in NYC when it was declared indecent. After returning to France, Stacia said, "Really, I have not brought away a single pleasant memory from the United States" and "What a narrow-minded people they are -- how utterly impervious to any beautiful impression!"

Polaire (1874-1939) made her name on the stage around 1902, stepping up from a revue singer and dancer. Her first film was in 1911 and and she made a total of 35 during her career. Polaire wore her hair short, unusual in women before the 1920s: she apparently adopted the style in the 1890's. To me, this picture could easily been taken in the mid 20's, though it is from August, 1910.

Ina Claire (1893 - 1985) was a very successful Broadway stage actress before appearing on screen. Of her 11 films, she is best known as the second female lead after Garbo in Ninotchka (1939). I enjoy her performance in The Greeks Had A Word For Them (1932), where she is teamed in the lead with Joan Blondell and Madge Evans.

Geraldine Farrar (1882 - 1967) was one of the most famous opera singers of the early twentieth century. Interestingly, Cecil B. de Mille cast her in her first film, Carmen, a silent film of an opera. A success (and available on DVD), de Mille used Farrar in six more films. She would make 15 films through 1920 and then returned to opera until retiring in 1922.

Gaby Deslys (1881 - 1920) was a dancer and stage actress who only made 5 films before her death from the 1919 influenza epidemic. Her carved and gilded bed, in the form of an enormous swan, was bought at auction by the Universal Studios prop department, and was used in the 1925 film of "The Phantom of the Opera". In 1950 it was in "Sunset Boulevard" as the bed of Norma Desmond.

Jane Cowl (1884 - 1950) was known for her interpretation of Shakespearean roles, and made Broadway history by playing Juliet over 1000 consecutive performances in 1923. Jane was the lead in two silent films, Garden of Lies (1915) and The Spreading Dawn (1917), and then after taking nearly 30 years off from films, she returned for several supporting roles in the 1940s. Her final film was Payment on Demand (1951) with Bette Davis. She was also a playwright. Her play Smilin' Through has been filmed three times.

Hazel Dawn (1891 - 1988) was a member of the original Ziegfeld Follies in 1907. A popular singer and stage actress, she made her first film in 1914 playing the lead role in One of Our Girls. Another 13 films followed through 1925. She appeared briefly on the TV screen in 1951 and 1954.

Irène Bordoni (1885 - 1953) arrived in the U.S. and made her Broadway debut in a Shubert brothers production of Broadway to Paris. She is probably best remembered from musical theatre as the star of the 1928 Cole Porter musical Paris that featured the song "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love", which became Porter's first big success. Irène mad several short films in France, two with Stacia Napierkowska, but her first major film was Paris (1929), adapted from the play. She appeared in a few more films prior to retirement, but had a comeback success in the role of "Bloody Mary" in the 1951 national tour of the musical South Pacific.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Helen Mack

Helen Mack was born November 12, 1913 in Rock Island, Illinois. At age seven she was enrolled at the Professional Children's School in New York City. She appeared on Broadway, in vaudeville and in five silent films beginning at age ten, her first being Ralph Ince's Success, (1923) featuring Mary Astor. Her first talkie saw her in a small role in D. W. Griffith's last film The Struggle (1931). Her Fox Film screen test came in March 1931 and within three weeks she was making films. Her debut as a leading lady was opposite Victor McLaglen in While Paris Sleeps (1932). Helen played in several westerns in the early 1930s, including Fargo Express (1933) with Ken Maynard, and The California Trail with Buck Jones. Helen may be best remembered for the 1933 movie sequel The Son of Kong, and also played an important role as Tanya in Merian C. Cooper's production of H. Rider Haggard's She (1935). Helen made over twenty films from the mid to late 30's including The Lemon Drop Kid (1934) opposite Lee Tracy, as the female lead in The Return of Peter Grimm (1935), starring Lionel Barrymore, Harold Lloyd's The Milky Way (1936), King of the Newsboys (1938) with Lew Ayres, and she closed out the decade with Calling All Marines (1939). Helen made six films between 1940 and 1945, including His Girl Friday and Girls of the Road, both in 1940.

In the 1940's and 1950's, Helen worked as a producer and director of radio programs including the series Richard Diamond, Private Detective, and The Saint. With the advent of TV Helen wrote and produced episodes for a number of programs.

Helen died in California Aug. 13, 1986.

Double click on the images for a larger view.

Publicity stills for While Paris Sleeps.

Publicity still for The California Trail.

The California Trial poster image.

Publicity still for Melody Cruise. (1933)

Blind Adventure (1933) publicity still.

Blind Adventure frame captures.

Fargo Express poster image.

Fargo Express frame captures.

Son of Kong poster image.

Son of Kong publicity stills.

All Of Me (1934) lobby card image.

All Of Me publicity stills.

Kiss and Make Up (1934) publicity still. The film stars Cary Grant.

Four Hours To Kill (1934) publicity still.

Paramount publicity still - 1934.

The Lemon Drop Kid lobby card image.

She publicity still.

She frame captures.

The Return of Peter Grimm publicity still.

Fit For A King (1937) poster image.

Fit For A King frame captures.

King of the Newsboys frame captures.

Gambling Ship (1938) lobby card image.

Girls Of The Road poster image.

Girls Of The Road frame captures.

Helen Mack - What do you think - Allure?